In the US, a VFR aircraft request VFR flight following and is given a squawk code after takeoff. 15nm before arriving at it's destination class D airport, the TRACON facility instructs the pilot to "contact the destination tower".

The pilot keeps his squawk code and change frequency to contact the destination tower. The tower instruct the pilot to enter "straight-in" for the runway in use. However, in order to enter straight-in, the pilot must briefly transit through the class C shelf of an adjacent airport and through the class D of another airport not far from the destination.

Q: Is the pilot cleared to transit through both adjacent C and D airspace since he still squawking the code provided by the local TRACON?

I understand the legal requirements to enter each airspace (AIM 3-2). If the pilot was still in contact with the TRACON facility he would be cleared to enter adjacent C and D airspace since he is squawking a discrete code AND previously established two-way communication. In this case however, the pilot is not anymore talking to the TRACON and switched to the destination tower. I cannot find an official reference that covers this particular scenario.

I came across this question/answer, Does Flight Following automatically include permission to fly through class C or D airspace?, before posting but my scenario is different since the pilot is not talking to the TRACON anymore. It's subtle but makes a big difference.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Pondlife I came across this question/answer before posting but my scenario is different since the pilot is not talking to the TRACON anymore. It's subtle but makes a big difference. $\endgroup$
    – LobsterBaz
    Apr 13, 2021 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead (ctd) -- anyway, the TL;DR version is that I'd be alarmed to learn of any sources that were giving the pilots the idea that communication requirements to enter a Class C "shelf" were different in any way from communication requirements to enter a core area of Class C airspace that actually extended all the way down to the surface. $\endgroup$ Apr 13, 2021 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead thanks for commenting but "probably" is rarely a good answer in aviation. $\endgroup$
    – LobsterBaz
    Apr 13, 2021 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ @quietflyer the issue has to do with who the "ATC facility providing air traffic services" is (91.130). For the most part: in the outer shelf (and beyond) it's the radar controller, in the surface area (at least up to a certain altitude!) it's the tower controller. Things are even more distinct if the facility is not an up/down. But pilots don't know the exact airspace owned by each controller, hence the "probably." If the pilot was previously in communication with the radar controller when outside the C surface area... $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Apr 13, 2021 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ ...then they probably wouldn't get in a huge amount of trouble if they were transferred to the D tower controller and got instructions that had them brush the C outer shelf. But brushing the C surface area would be more problematic. Whichever controller is issuing instructions is supposed to coordinate entry into other surface areas, but that doesn't relieve the pilot of their responsibility to follow 91.130 and 91.129. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Apr 13, 2021 at 0:18

1 Answer 1


Trust, but verify.

The pilot must comply with 91.129 and 91.130 unless otherwise instructed by ATC.

ATC of any kind (radar or tower, Class C or Class D) should coordinate with any affected tower if an aircraft they are providing services to will enter another facility's surface area airspace. At least that's how I read the 7110.65 2–1–16, which you will note is in the "General Control" section and not the "Radar" section... though the wording definitely implies that it's directed at radar controllers.

The radar controller should have coordinated with the Class C tower (if necessary) and Class D tower controllers before switching the pilot to the destination Class D tower controller, if they expected the pilot would have to enter the respective surface areas. The destination Class D tower controller should have coordinated with the other tower controllers, if they expected the pilot to enter those surface areas. If coordination was not effected, they should not issue instructions which would imply permission to enter the other surface areas.

The pilot should query whichever controller they happen to be talking to, and follow the instructions they receive ("proceed through the XXX Class Delta airspace" or "remain outside of XXX Class Delta airspace").

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for providing a detailed answer and for referencing the relevant FAA publication! $\endgroup$
    – LobsterBaz
    Apr 13, 2021 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ Radar services are workload-permitting. It's still a pilot responsibility to obtain any necessary clearance. If the pilot is cut loose and told to contact the tower, and an additional Class D exists between where radar service ended, and the destination, it's pilot responsibility to get request and receive clearance through the interim Class D. It's also his responsibility to avoid airspace with which he has no compliance or clearance. Receipt of prior service or code does not change that or give an ongoing clearance. $\endgroup$
    – Will
    Apr 18, 2021 at 20:44

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